Monday's announcement capped an unforgettable few weeks for Lang. Not only did he beat out first-round pick Derek Sherrod but he became a first-time dad a couple weeks ago.
"It's been an eventful year for me," Lang said on Monday. "I'm excited to have the chance to go out there and start but it's time to take it up to a new level. It's my job to hold onto the spot and make sure that the coaches were right about their decision."
Being the emergency center notwithstanding, Lang finally has a position to call his own — and that dates back to college, where he played defensive tackle as a freshman at Eastern Michigan. As a rookie fourth-round pick in 2009, Lang lined up mostly at right tackle during the offseason practices, played both guard slots in the preseason and wound up replacing injured Chad Clifton in the starting lineup at left tackle for two games.
Last year, Lang was considered a contender to unseat Daryn Colledge at left tackle or Mark Tauscher at right tackle. Instead, because of offseason wrist surgery, Lang arrived at training camp just hoping to hang onto his roster spot. He got meaningful playing time in just one game, the second half at Detroit in place of the injured Colledge and the ineffective Jason Spitz.
Now, after lining up at four spots during his first two seasons in Green Bay and at left guard and left tackle this summer, Lang can concentrate on left guard for the next two-and-a-half weeks as the team gears up for the Sept. 8 opener against New Orleans.
"When I was (being shuffled around the line), I wasn't really happy because I wanted to settle in at one spot and try to challenge for a starting spot," Lang said. "Looking back at it, it's only helped me realize what's going on with the whole unit. I know what everybody's supposed to do and each individual's assignment, so that's definitely made me a smarter player. I'm pretty glad I got that opportunity."
And pretty excited about the opportunity that awaits.
Lang spent the lockout working out with fellow lineman Nick McDonald and outside linebacker Frank Zombo at Dynamic Athlete Performance near Zombo's home in Canton, Mich. He said 99 percent of his position work came in preparation for lining up at left guard and being ready in the event that Colledge left in free agency. Lang has worked hard for this opportunity and isn't about to take a step back and relax.
"No doubt, I'm excited to have a chance to go in there and really take that spot and lock it down," Lang said. "I think I've earned it through my play the first couple weeks. Just my mind-set is the fact that nothing was handed to me (and it) makes me want to work that much harder to hold onto that spot and be an impact player. I'm excited about this week. It's just another step for me to take."
That Lang emerged victorious is a bit of an upset. On the first day of training camp, Sherrod — in his first practice as a professional — took all of the left guard reps with the starters.
Lang didn't pout. Rather, the coaches' decision to go with the untested rookie lit a "fire under his ass." Lang kept plugging away and putting together one strong performance after another.
"I knew my No. 1 personal goal coming into this year was to be a starter," Lang said. "Obviously, with the only spot being open on the line with Daryn being gone, I knew left guard was going to be my best shot. I wasn't surprised that they put Derek in there at first but it made me only work that much harder knowing that I didn't have anything handed to me. I definitely put in a lot of work throughout the offseason and the first couple weeks of camp. I think I gave the coaches confidence to let me go out there and play, to show them that I can go out there and do the job."
The coaches took notice. That Sherrod suffered a knee sprain during Saturday's game only amplified that it was time to anoint Lang the starter.
"If you're talking about performance, T.J.'s performance grade was above Sherrod's," coach Mike McCarthy said. "We factored in the timing of it. It's important that we move forward and try to get a cohesive unit ready for New Orleans. T.J.'s been here, he has the experience and he's taken a big step."
Building that cohesion will be aided by the men Lang is lining up between. In his first 11 seasons, left tackle Chad Clifton has started 166 games (including playoffs). In his first seven seasons, center Scott Wells has started 91 games (including playoffs).
"The chemistry between offensive linemen is more so that you know that the guy next to you is going to do his job," Lang said. "When I'm out there, I don't think Scott has to worry about me doing my assignment because I think he knows I'm a smart player.
"You start to learn each others' techniques. Whether you're double-teaming somebody or pass pro, you get to know what the guy next to you likes to do and what he's going to do on certain plays. Eventually, it gets to a point where you have that chemistry and you really don't need to make a whole lot of calls because you know that guy next to you is on the same page as you. He's going to do what you think he's going to do and he knows that you're going to do your job. To have those reps with those guys, playing next to Scotty and Chad, nine- and 12-year players, they've played a lot of snaps. That's definitely going to help me out being between those guys. I'm going to continue to prove to them that I earned that job and I belong there."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.